For the second time in three years, the National Science Foundation has selected a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga faculty member to serve as a program director as part of the federal agency’s Rotator Program.
Jennifer Ellis, associate professor and director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education at UTC, will begin a temporary program director assignment with NSF on Aug. 16. In her role, she will focus on grant funding for three NSF programs:
the NSF’s S-STEM Program, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program.
Ellis will retain ties to UTC and bring back new insights and experiences.
“This is a wonderful opportunity and great recognition for her, and it allows her to really advance her career,” said Valerie Rutledge, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.
“Jennifer’s engagement in STEM and the fact that she has collaborated with engineering and other departments on grants made her very visible to them. I can’t imagine a better candidate than Jennifer.”
NSF offers the chance for educators, scientists and engineers to join the agency as temporary program directors, referred to as rotators. They make recommendations about proposals to fund, influence new directions in their fields, support interdisciplinary research and mentor junior research members.
S-STEM Program: Provides funding for scholarships for students with demonstrated financial need who are pursuing associate, bachelor or graduate degrees in STEM majors.
Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program: Provides funding for scholarships, stipend, and program support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers.
Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program: An effort to accelerate improvements in the quality and effectiveness of undergraduate education in all STEM fields.
“This will give me a different perspective of seeing what the process looks like from the other side,” Ellis said. “I have been successful with getting NSF awards where I’ve been the PI (principal investigator) or the co-PI.
“Working directly with Noyce grants and S-STEM grants and seeing the other side of it, will be beneficial when I return to UTC. It will help enhance what we’re already doing with those respective efforts.”
Ellis credited Li Yang, Guerry professor of computer science and engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, with sparking interest in the NSF role.
Yang was the first UTC professor chosen as an NSF program director, where she managed STEM proposals and awards in cybersecurity artificial intelligence, future of the work, computer science, cyber-infrastructure and education research during the 2019-2020 academic year.
“When she took on her role as rotator, she planted a little seed. She told me, ‘I think you should consider it,’” Ellis recalled. “She gave me good counsel on next steps of my career and said, ‘Make sure you have more of a national presence and are known nationally and internationally for your work in STEM education.’”
To avoid conflict of interest while on loan to the NSF, Ellis said her active and applied-for grants had to be reassigned, and she has spent the last several weeks identifying individuals to whom those grants could be shifted.
Her STEM director duties will be divvied among School of Education personnel.
“My colleagues have all stepped up,” she said. “It’s been very comforting to know that people are happy for me and they’re willing to take on some extra roles to support me in this effort.”
Ellis joined UTC in 2011 as an assistant professor, became the STEM director in 2015 and received a promotion to associate professor in 2016. In fall 2019, she was one of the pioneering UTC faculty members who moved into campus housing for the purpose of greater engagement, accessibility and approachability for students.